MA Journalism/Mass Communications,
Making a video game is an odd mixture of science and art, and you never know what problem you'll be asked to solve next. That sort of challenge is exactly why I love my job as the Program Manager for Project Gotham Racing at the Microsoft Games Studios.
The best word to describe my career path is probably ‘accidental'. I didn't have a major picked out until my junior year in college. I dumped way too much money into arcade games back then, but it didn't occur to me that you could get an actual job working on games. I knew I wanted to work on fun, challenging projects with smart people, but that's about it. My first job was as a technical writer responsible for documenting operating systems' API sets, so I described how OS function calls worked and wrote sample code that exercised those functions. After several years of this, I realized I wanted to be closer to the nose end of the dog, rather than the tail, so I moved into Program Management to be part of the design and development process. I was in the right place (Microsoft) at the right time (mid-90's) with the right skills (technology background, project design and management experience) and interests (sports) when Microsoft decided to get into the entertainment software business.
As a Program Manager, it is my responsibility to drive the creation and maintenance of a game's vision, feature set, and schedules, as well as deliverables and trade-offs from project inception through launch. This includes coordinating the work of functional leads and team members from Game Design, Development, Art, Audio, Testing, Product Support, User Experience, Localization, Business Development, and Marketing.
My mathematics background is instrumental for me in two ways. First, I have a strong understanding of the higher-level mathematics required to provide realistic physics and next-generation 3-D graphics in today's games. This enables me to work effectively with the programmers and artists responsible for these features, anticipating and understanding their challenges. Second, the problem-solving skills I learned while studying mathematics and as a programmer are absolutely invaluable. Much of my ability to break complex issues into solvable pieces, find creative solutions, and execute methodically, I credit to my mathematical education.
There are possibilities of advancement for someone in my position. One can climb the corporate ladder to achieve positions such as Group Program Manager, Studio Manager, General Manager, etc. However, I prefer to focus on a single game and work with a dedicated team to make a creative vision come to life. This also enables me to have a vibrant life outside of work, which is more difficult to do the higher you climb in management. (I play drums with an oldies rock band and a local orchestra, and my husband and I are avid scuba divers, bicyclists, and softball players.) My dream is to explore more fully the concept of making games for wider audiences. The hardcore gamer audience of 16-26-year-old males has plenty of games for them, so I'm pushing for entertainment experiences designed for older people, for women, and for anyone who doesn't currently play games, which is still the majority of the population.
I have people ask me what the most enjoyable aspects of my job are. Personally, I thrive on bringing order to chaos, and that definitely describes the process of creating a game. It's also very gratifying to see people have a good time playing your finished game. And, when people ask me what I do for a living, I love to see their eyes light up when I say “I make video games!” I never got that reaction when my answer was “I write technical reference guides for programmers!”